Things to do on Manitoulin Island

Amazing Things to do in Manitoulin Island

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Manitoulin Island is located on Lake Huron in Northern Ontario. Beyond being the largest island in a freshwater lake in the world. It is also home to the largest lake within an island within a lake in the world. AND the largest island within a lake, within an island within a lake in the world! With all of those weird and wonderful world records, it’s not hard to find all of the fun things to do in Manitoulin Island. And we have you covered. We have been to Manitoulin Island several times, and list some of our favorite Manitoulin Island attractions, eateries and day trips from the Bruce Peninsula. 

Providence Bay Manitoulin Island from above. Swimming at the beach in Providence Bay is one of the best things to do on Manitoulin Island

How to Get to Manitoulin Island

A visit to Manitoulin Island can be done as a day trip from Toronto, but it would be a long one. It involves a 3-hour drive north to Tobermory, Ontario. Next is a 2-hour ride on the Chi Cheemaun Ferry to get to the southernmost point of  Manitoulin Island, South Baymouth. You can also access Manitoulin Island via bridge through the town of Little Current near Sudbury. This is a popular route for those coming from Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, and Thunder Bay. This route to Manitoulin is accessed by following the Trans Canada Highway along 69 to Sudbury and bearing left on 6 and on through to Little Current. For those with time to spare, the views along HWY 6 are gorgeous. 

Travelers wait to board the Chi Cheemaun Ferry in South Baymouth Manitoulin Island. A trip on the Chi Cheemaun Ferry is one of the best things to do on Manitoulin Island

Some of the Best Things to do in Manitoulin Island, Ontario

We recommend making it a Manitoulin Island long weekend rather than a day trip. There are so many things to do on Manitoulin Island that it’s worth the extra time. And by extending your trip to Manitoulin Island you can take the time to explore Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park. Manitoulin Island itself can be explored at a casual pace over a couple of days. And it makes an excellent Ontario road trip destination.

Hike the Cup and Saucer Trail for incredible views of Manitoulin Island

There are many hiking trails on Manitoulin Island. The most famous hike on Manitoulin Island is the Cup and Saucer Trail. The Cup and Saucer trail has 12 km of hiking trails and a 2 km adventure trail that involves ladders and rock scrambling. The Cup and Saucer Trail can take as little as 1.5 hours or up to half a day if you plan to explore the whole route.  

A young boy points into the distance on the top of a rock on the Cup and Saucer Hiking Trail on Manitoulin Island. The Cup and Saucer Trail is one of the top things to do on Manitoulin Island

The trail to the top Cup and Saucer viewpoint and back took us a little over 2 hours while hiking  Manitoulin Island with kids. It could have taken much longer if we didn’t have our Great Spirit Circle Trail guide as the Cup and Saucer trails are not always well-marked. At the time of our visit, D was only 2 years old. So we did not do the Cup and Saucer Adventure Trail but would love to go back and try it when he is older.  

Other hiking trails on Manitoulin Island island include:   

  • Bebamikawe Memorial Trail at the end of Beach Rd near Wikwemikong.
  • Lewis Twins Peak Hiking Trail, a 1.4 k loop off HWY 6 near Shequiandah.
  • M’Chigeeng Aboriginal Trail off Highway 551, just south of Highway 540. This trail was recently doubled in length and features the Bear Caves and Fossil Rock Point.
  • Misery Bay Provincial Park features a number of picturesque trails. I recommend setting aside 2-4 hours for exploring the park.

Discover the beautiful lighthouses on Manitoulin Island

A lighthouse tour of Manitoulin Island starts while on the Chi Cheemaun ferry ride from mainland Tobermory to South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island. After a 30-minute ride, it is possible to spot the tall, century-old Cove Island Lighthouse. There are 10 lighthouses on Manitoulin Island. An easily accessed lighthouse is Janet Head Lighthouse in Gore Bay. The views are fantastic but call ahead if you want to go inside the Lighthouse as it is often closed.   

If you’re willing to drive to find things to do in Manitoulin Island, you can find even more.. Heading further west towards Meldrum Bay, stop by to visit the Mississagi Lighthouse. Built in 1879, it is the oldest of all the lighthouses on Manitoulin Island. There is also an onsite museum that is open to the public during the summer. It shows how a lighthouse keeper and his family lived. Plus, there is a trail that allows for the area surrounding the Lighthouse to be explored. There are rock crevices, grottoes, limestone ledges, and more.  

Other lighthouses on the island include:  

A young boy explores the grounds of the Janet Head Lighouse on Manitoulin Island. It's one of the best things to do on Manitoulin Island

Explore Misery Bay Provincial Park

The Misery Bay Nature Preserve is the only operating provincial park on Manitoulin Island. Misery Bay Provincial Park is known for having large areas of alvar. An alvar is a region of bare or nearly bare rock where little vegetation grows. There are 4 hiking trails in Misery Bay Provincial Park. It is possible to avail of guided hikes by contacting the Visitor’s center. Since we didn’t have time to explore the trails completely, we stopped by the Visitor’s center first to learn more about the area.

The kids had so much fun looking at the exhibits and hands-on displays we almost had to bribe them to go on the hike with us. We ended up doing a combination of the Coastal Trail to the lookout, walked a bit on the Misery Bay Trail, before heading back on the Inner Alvar tail. We were so glad we went as the views of the Bay were magnificent. And, as it was later on in the day, we had the entire beach at Misery Bay to ourselves.

Benches on the beach at Misery Bay Provincial Park on Manitoulin Island. Hiking Misery Bay Provincial Park is one of the best things to do on Manitoulin Island

Experience a Royal Astronomical Society of Canada designated Dark Sky Preserve

Not all the fun things to do in Manitoulin Island are limited to the daytime. Because it is relatively far away from any major city, light pollution on the Island is at a minimum. However, it is so dark at Gordon’s Eco Park that it has received the Dark Sky Preserve designation from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

The park hosts Astronomy nights at a part of the park where no white light is allowed after sunset. Here, telescopes are set up and resident experts point out stars and constellations. And for those lucky ones, it is also possible to spot the Northern Lights when conditions are perfect!  

Camping tents at Gordons Park Dark Sky Preserve on Manitoulin Island. A visit to Gordons Park is one of the best things to do on Manitoulin Island

Learn about Aboriginal Culture on the Great Spirit Circle Trail

The Great Spirit Circle Trail experience is one of the best hands-on ways to learn about Aboriginal culture. The highlight for us was definitely the Voice of the Drum experience. For a few hours, our aboriginal guide taught C how to make his own drum from traditional materials. It started with a smudging ceremony (a First Nation ceremony involving cleansing your spirit of bad thoughts by wafting smoke from cedar, tobacco and other items) and ended with C having a mini-performance with his teacher. 

Other experiences we had were learning about various medicinal plants while hiking the Cup and Saucer Trail and learning about it from an aboriginal perspective, eating bannock and berries, and canoeing on Lake Manitou. You can read more about our Great Spirit Circle Trail experience here. The Great Spirit Circle Trail was one of the most in-depth indigenous experiences we had prior to our incredible indigenous tour of Quebec.

An Ojibwe man teaches two young children about the voice of the drum at the Great Spirit Circle Trail on Manitoulin Island. The Great Spirit Circle Trail is one of the best things to do on Manitoulin Island

See the world’s largest Pow Wow Drum, Peace Pipe, and Dreamcatcher in Sheshegwaning

At the Western end of Manitoulin Island near Meldrum Bay is the town of Sheshegwaning, home of the Zhiibaahassing First Nations people. This indigenous community is worth the detour on your drive around Manitoulin Island to see the World’s largest peace pipe, biggest drum, and largest dreamcatcher. 

A woman smiles while banging the worlds largest Pow Wow drum in Sheshegwaning Manitoulin Island. A visit to Sheshegwaning is one of the best things to on Manitoulin Island

Swim Under a Manitoulin Island Waterfall at Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls is in Kagawong and is a very popular spot for both locals and those visiting Manitoulin Island. The Bridal Veil Falls is 11 m (35 ft) tall and you can swim in the small pool at the base of the falls. A walk behind the falls is also possible, although it can get slippery. Entry to the waterfalls is free and there is a small parking lot off of HWY 540 where you can park and head down the steel staircase to the waterfall.  

For those that want to have a bit more of an adventure getting to the Bridal Veil Falls on Manitoulin Island, there is a hiking trail from the top of the falls. It follows both sides of the stream. Follow the trail down to the base of the falls for some great views.

A father and some swim under a waterfall on Manitoulin Island. A swim in Bridal Veil Falls is one of the top things to do on Manitoulin Island

Spend a day at the beach in Providence Bay

Looking for a large expanse of sand surrounding the crystal-clear waters of Lake Huron? Then a day (or two) at Providence Bay on the south shore of Manitoulin Island is for you. The beach was originally called “Bebekodawangog”, which means “where the beach curves around the water”. Providence Bay is less than a 30-minute drive from the South Baymouth Ferry which makes it a popular day trip on Manitoulin Island. For those that don’t like sand on their toes, there is also a boardwalk that winds along the shoreline.

If you are traveling to Manitoulin Island with kids, note that Providence Bay also has a nice playground and nature center (located at the start of the boardwalk). So, when they are done swimming, or making sandcastles, you can tire out your little ones on the nearby swing and slides. The area around Providence Bay is popular for Cottage rentals on Manitoulin Island as well. So if you’re looking for a getaway, it’s the perfect place to start.

Boardwalk in Providence Bay Manitoulin Island. A walk along the boardwalk and beach in Providence Bay is one of the most amazing things to do on Manitoulin Island

Enjoy a sunset canoe ride on Lake Manitou

Manitoulin Island has over 100 lakes! And Lake Manitou is the largest lake within an island within a freshwater lake in the world. So, when we were looking to try out canoeing on the Island, Lake Manitou sounded like a great option. We went on a guided expedition with the Great Spirit Circle Trail. The waters were a bit rough as we went out in the deeper water just before sunset, but the views were worth the waves! 

For those that prefer calmer waters, it would be best to go out earlier in the morning. Also, joining a tour is not necessary and you can either bring your own canoe or rent from one of the many outfitters on the island.  

Canoers on Lake Manitou on Manitou in Island. A sunset canoe ride on Lake Manitou is one of the best things to do on Manitoulin Island

Do Some Manitoulin Island Fishing

With all those lakes, it is no wonder Manitoulin Island is a fishing destination. The waters of Meldrum Bay are said to have the best Chinook salmon fishing in Canada. Providence Bay is also a popular fishing spot, with a fall salmon run filling the waters just off the boardwalk.  C lvoes fishing and kept asking to get a fishing guide to make sure we could land “land a big one!”

A young boy concentrates while fishing from the boardwalk in Providence Bay Manitoulin Island. Fishing for salmon is one of the top things to do on Manitoulin Island

Take A Trip Back In Time In Meldrum Bay

Meldrum Bay is a village at the western-most end of HWY 540. Settled in the 1870s the town is named after a town in Scotland. It used to be a fishing village but today, the dock is busy with non-commercial boats and summer folk enjoying the largely non-commercial way of life in the village. The Meldrum Bay Inn and Restaurant is one of the island’s top Hotels. It is also famous for serving some of the best food on Manitoulin Island.  

If you don’t have time for a sit-down meal you can also grab a sausage, burger or pizza from the food stand next door at the Meldrum Bay General Store. The owners will entertain you with stories of spending summers growing on the Island (tell them we say hi!). During the summer season, kayak and paddleboard rentals are available. This is a great way to explore the Bay.  

Meldrum Bay Inn and the General Store in Meldrum Bay Manitoulin Island. A visit to Meldrum Bay is one of the best things to do on Manitoulin Island

Indulge In Manitoulin Island Whitefish at Lake Huron Fish and Chips in Providence Bay

After swimming in Providence Bay, a walk to nearby Lake Huron Fish and Chips in Providence Bay makes for a perfect break. It is located on the corner of 551 and McNevin St. The line-up can be long during the busy summer season so try to get there early before the crowd shows up. But the wait is worth it! The freshly battered whitefish will leave a lasting impression. 

Lake Huron Fish and Chips in Providence Bay Manitoulin Island. Lake Huron Fish and Chips is one of the best things to do on Manitoulin Island

Treat Yourself To Ice Cream At Farquhar’s Dairy Ice Cream

Manitoulin Island has delicious local Ice Cream from Farquhar’s dairy. Farquhar Dairies Ltd is a family owned Canadian business with origins in Manitoulin Island. You can find Farquhar’s ice cream at many places within the island, but we couldn’t find it at lower prices than at the gas station and restaurant between M’Chigeeng and Mindemoya. 

Scooping Faquhar's Dairy Ice Cream in M'Chigeeng Ontario. Tasting Farquhar's Ice Cream is one of the best things to do on Manitoulin Island

Dance at A Manitoulin Island Pow Wow

A pow pow is a gathering and celebration of First Nations People. They are full of song, dance, music, and food.  If you can time your visit to Manitoulin Island during one of the annual Pow Wows we strongly suggest you go. Experiencing a Pow Wow on Manitoulin island is a perfect way to learn about, and get involved with aboriginal culture in Ontario. You can read all about how to experience a Pow Wow in Ontario here

An elder dancers at a Pow Wow in Sheguiandah Manitoulin Island. A visit to a Pow Wow is one of the greatest things to do on Manitoulin Island

Enjoy Breakfast and an Apple Fritter at Mum’s Bakery in Mindemoya

Through all of our things to do in Manitoulin Island, Ontario we rarely came upon any crowds. That is until we stopped at Mum’s Bakery and Restaurant in Mindemoya. This popular breakfast and lunch spot has delicious baked treats. Do yourself a favor and take out a box of their amazing Apple Fritters. 

Breakfast at Mums Bakery in Mindemoya Manitoulin Island. A plate of eggs, sausages, bacon and toast with some coffee is one of the best things to do on Manitoulin Island

Where To Stay On Manitoulin Island Ontario

Manitoulin Island is bursting with quaint bed and breakfasts, motels, and small ins. Outside of the big town of Little Current, you won’t find many big hotels on Manitoulin Island. The island is all about slowing down and enjoying the rural lifestyle. There are some great accommodations on Manitoulin Island to consider including the Wayside Motel in Manitowaning. The Wayside Motel has a great beachside location and all the rooms have microwaves and coffee makers.

Another popular Manitoulin Island accommodation is the Huron Sands motel in Providence Bay. Huron Sands has a restaurant serving home-style meals, free WiFi, and a location that gives easy access to many of the things to do on Manitoulin Island.

What are your Favorite Things to do on Manitoulin Island?

By now I’m sure you can see why Manitoulin Island is one of our top places to visit with kids in Ontario. But did we miss anything? Do you have a favorite place on Manitoulin Island that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments below so we can keep this updated for those wanting to visit Manitoulin Island with kids!

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About the Author

Christina Wagar grew up in a travel loving family. She strives to instil her love of learning about different cultures and seeing new and old places to her husband Kevin and their two young boys. Having experienced over 20 countries across 4 continents Christina is well versed at travel planning and thrives on sharing that information with others with the hopes of encouraging more families to experience this incredible world that we live in.

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16 Comments

  1. Haha, my brain is reeling after the ‘largest island on the largest lake on the largest island on the largest lake’ thing!! But with 100 lakes on the island, it’s got to be a lot bigger than I first thought! Forget the long weekend, I think I’d have to stay for a couple of weeks to see and do everything that appealed to me on Manitoulin Island – especially with daily visits to the bakery thrown in. But that’s what the hiking trails are for, right?!

  2. Looks like a great place for a weekend. I would love to hike to the Bridal Veils Falls and then go swimming there, it just looks lovely.

  3. Wow, you say make a long weekend of it, but it looks like the right place to spend a week, or a month. I grew up in BC and I always find it surprising how different Ontario looks than where I grew up. Such a distinctive style of landscape and building!

    Jane M

  4. I had to smile reading your introduction to Manitoulin Island as “the largest island in a freshwater lake in the world AND home to the largest lake within an island within a lake in the world AND the largest island within a lake, within an island within a lake in the world.” … All marketers of places we have been to so far always find superlatives like this 😀 No doubt though, Manitoulin Island is one of the most beautiful places of the world!

  5. Hi Christina,

    Wow. Now that is one heck of a drum. Massive. I see why it’s the world’s biggest.

    This entire region looks pristine, clean and eye-popping.

    I love Canada’s natural beauty. Definitely one of the most gorgeous countries on earth and Manitoulin Island lives up to that top billing after reading your rocking blog post.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Ryan

    1. The star gazing is incredible! Especially on a dark night. And getting here from Toronto is half the journey 🙂 A stop in Tobermory and a trip on the Chi-Cheemaun are a great way to break up the journey.

  6. Thanks to tourism advertising like this, Ontario hwy 6 which leads to the Chi Cheemaun ferry terminal, is now a race track where “In 2019, January 1st to September 3rd, Grey Bruce OPP have charged 221 drivers with stunt driving, 176 of the charges have been on Highway 6, a 75km length of highway between Wiarton and Tobermory.” Stunt driving is travelling at greater than 130km/h in a posted 80km/h zone. The vehicle is impounded. Needless to say there have been horrendous accidents with loss of life. Short term vacation rental is lucrative so now there is a shortage of places for long term people to live. If staff can’t love here, the businesses cannot operate effectively. This is the downside that you don’t advertise. And that is what you want to import onto Manitoulin Island?

    1. Hello Su,

      Thanks so much for your detailed reply. You are correct. HWY 6 to Bruce County can be an extremely busy route. During weekends in Ontario, many highways heading towards beautiful regions such as Bruce County, the Kawarthas, and Muskoka are often inundated with weekend warriors escaping the big cities. Towns such as Wasaga Beach and Tobermory do experience over-tourism, especially on long weekends. It is precisely because of this that I encourage people to explore beyond these popular lakeside towns.
      By diversifying tourist interest beyond areas like Bruce Peninsula National Park and encouraging visitors to explore under-visited areas such as Manitoulin Island we can encourage a more sustainable balance of Ontario tourism. This way people can use their tourism dollars to support many of the incredible Manitoulin Island businesses that rely on tourism to keep afloat. Businesses such as The Great Spirit Circle Trail and Gordon’s Eco Park can continue to grow and flourish.
      Tourism in Ontario is only going to continue to grow. And as much as we would all love to keep our little piece of paradise to ourselves, it simply isn’t realistic with the growth of population and the increasing accessibility of tourism. Instead, a focus on sustainability and diversification is a more realistic approach.

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